A traffic patrol initiative, driven by a grant, that has increased patrol by Salem Public Safety officers on Highway 50 drew questions from the Salem Town Board at Monday night’s Committee of the Whole meeting.
Board members were upset that they had not been told of the grant program and that plans were to increase traffic patrol as a result. Salem Public Safety officers enforce town ordinances and also patrol traffic trouble spots.
Supervisor Ted Kmiec and others said they first heard about the program in the media, which they objected to.
“I read about it in the paper,” Kmiec said. “We should know about it.”
Town administrator Patrick Casey apologized for not informing the board about the program, attributing the lack of notification to being busy with other matters and letting it slip by.
Public Safety Director David Shortess said the goal of the grant program is to enforce speed laws and seat belt laws. The town was awarded $30,000, with half to go to speed law enforcement and half to seat belt enforcement. It requires a contact — not necessary a citation — every 45 minutes during patrol covered by the grant program.
One aspect of the WISE GRANTS program as applied in Salem has been increased traffic patrols on Highway 50. That seemed to be the chief point of contention with board members, after the lack of notification about the start of the program.
Supervisor Dan Campion said the town increasing patrol on Highway 50 was letting the Sheriff’s Department out of what should be the sheriff’s responsibility.
“By us doing anything on (Highway) 50 we’re letting the sheriff off the hook,” Campion said.
Supervisor Mike Culat said he would prefer to see increased patrol in neighborhoods, perhaps enforcing often ignored stop signs, than running radar on Highway 50.
“I’d like to see us get into neighborhoods more, in a marked car, where people know we’re there,” Culat said.
Supervisor Dennis Faber said he feels that the Sheriff’s Department patrolling Highway 50 for speeders is more appropriate, though he acknowledged the value of recent Salem Public Safety stops involving cars traveling over 100 mph on Highway 50.
Kmiec questioned whether town Public Safety staff were sufficiently qualified to make traffic stops on Highway 50, where the chance of coming across a hardened criminal was more likely.
“I have heard from citizens that are unhappy that we are on Highway 50,” Kmiec said.
Chairman Diann Tesar said she was still undecided about the worth of the Highway 50 patrol, but asserted that some of the problem is because public safety officer’s prefer traffic enforcement duties to code enforcement, which often entails confronting people about property upkeep.
Shortess defended his department, saying he resented the insinuation that his officers were handing out traffic tickets needlessly, He pointed out that citations are only issued on Highway 50 for excessive speed well above the speed limit. Traffic stops are in fact good opportunities for community policing, not just writing tickets, he said.
“We are making many, many contacts,” Shortess said, including talking to motorists about equipment problems and issuing warnings. “We’re not just out there hammering people with citations.”
Casey asked the board how to proceed and it was decided to discuss the matter at the July committee of the whole meeting, which typically would be held on July 18. In the meantime, Shortess and Casey will work on a report on the activities of the department.